College chiefs back Quinn call for more student aid


SPRINGFIELD — College and university presidents support Gov. Pat Quinn's plan to offer more grants to low-income students.

By Benjamin Yount

SPRINGFIELD — College and university presidents support Gov. Pat Quinn's plan to offer more grants to low-income students.

The governor today held a closed-door meeting at the executive mansion with university and community college presidents as he tries to shore up support for his State of the State pledge to increase funding for the Monetary Assistance Program, or MAP, a program that awards grants to students whose parents earn on average no more than $35,000 a year.

However, Quinn's office is not commenting on how much funding the governor will be requesting, or from where that money will come.

"Details of the governor's plan will come Feb. 22 during the budget speech," said Kelly Kraft, Quinn's budget spokeswoman.

Southern Illinois University at Carbondale President Glenn Poshard said after the meeting Wednesday that Quinn's proposal will help keep thousands of students enrolled in a college or university.

"It's extremely important to us. We have a large number of low-income students at SIU," Poshard said. "The governor has ensured us that he will go all out for the MAP grant, and we were all very appreciative of that."

Nearly 1,600 of SIU Carbondale's 20,000 students are eligible for MAP grants.

But while Quinn and the college and university leaders discussed spending more on MAP grants, the reality is the state owes many of these schools millions of dollars in overdue payments.

Poshard said SIU Carbondale is owed nearly $86 million in state aid payments for faculty salary or campus improvements.

"Well, we know there is only so much money to go around, but we are hopeful that the governor is making this effort, and we are going to try to get behind him," Poshard said.

Late state aid payments are one of the factors driving up the cost of college, said Robin Steans, executive director of the education advocacy group Advance Illinois. Steans said as the state sends less and less money to colleges and universities, those institutions have to turn to students to make up the difference.

"One reason that Illinois is so unaffordable is because the state has shifted the burden of funding colleges and universities," Steans said Wednesday.

Steans said Quinn should "be applauded" for trying to expand the MAP program, but she warns that new dollars for MAP grants should not come at the expense of other education needs.

"These are extremely difficult times to make that investment," Steans said.

Al Bowman, president of Illinois State University in Normal, said schools in Illinois are not the only ones to see students who need more financial assistance.

"Nationally, funding for public higher education is at a 25-year low … And we've got some tough times ahead of us," Bowman said. "(But) I do think in Illinois there is particular support for public higher education, and I think the governor's support for the MAP program is a good example of that.

The U.S. Department of Education released a study in 2008 that echoed Bowman's estimates.

But state Rep. Lisa Dugan, D-Bradley, said the governor's focus on four-year colleges and universities is alienating several high school graduates.

"Instead of going to a four-year university with a master's degree in something, they'd rather have the training and be a master electrician or a master plumber and be certified statewide for that trade job," Dugan said.

Dugan added that she hopes the governor also could find money for technical or vocation training.

Illinois Statehouse News reporters Stephanie Fryer and Anthony Brino contributed to this report.

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